TIGERS ARCHIVE – Ice Arena Wales

At the start of 2015, Tigers press officer James Shaw spoke to the man in charge of Ice Arena Wales, and the resulting feature ran in our match night programme. Take a look at what happened…

September 2006. Remember that date?

Chris Hartrey does. As General Manager of the Wales National Ice Rink in Cardiff, he was the last person out. And as General Manager of Ice Arena Wales, he’ll be the first man in.

That’s quite a journey: “I was the guy who locked the doors, switched the lights off and switched the plant off. It was so sad to do that. The building meant so much, to so many people.”

At the time, a brand-new ice arena had been promised, just a year or so down the line, and the future was bright for the Devils. Well, sort of.

A tent – big and blue – was built on a car park in Cardiff Bay. Temporary, Chris was told, accommodation for ice sports in the city. Three years max.

Nearly a decade later, our interview takes place in the tent’s café, as that long-promised ice arena nears completion.

“This has been a good home for us, but it was only ever designed to last for a few years,” Chris explains.

“It is a fabric roof with tarpaulin sides. We even had bets about which panel would blow out first!”

There is a fair helping of black humour, as we discuss the merits of the fondly-named Big Blue Tent.

Portakabins, heaters, wooden frame, tiny bar. You get the drift.

Understandably, there will be little affection when the BBT closes next year: “I was involved in the building of this place, so I know how it all came together. It is the same over there. These are very exciting times for everybody around here.”

Chris nods in the general direction of the door. Well, further than that.

Across the car park – literally – Ice Arena Wales is just months away from completion. It will be an anchor feature of the Cardiff Sports Village, located in the city’s bay area.

And the stats are impressive. Very, very impressive – twin ice pads, 3080 seats, 300 capacity bar, gym, physio centre. I could go on.

Chris explains: “This is probably the most exciting time of my life. Ice rinks in Cardiff have been part of me for nearly 27 years. At last, I have got what I want. This is life-changing for me.”

Ice Arena Wales in Cardiff

Ice Arena Wales in Cardiff

The tale of how Cardiff got from the closure of the old WNIR, to the new Ice Arena Wales, is pitted. And that’s putting it mildly.

I ask Chris if he ever thought the game was up. Before I finish my question, he blurts out his answer.

With a wry smile: “There have been loads of times when I wondered if this would happen. Even up to the time when the first pile went in.

“But if you look over there now, we have a massive iconic building being built. There is nothing like it in the rest of the UK.”

At this point of the interview, Cardiff Devils Managing Director Todd Kelman wanders in.

He is head of a US-based consortium that took control of the club last year.

The club’s ‘MD’ has more than a passing interest: “This is my first year here, but the Devils matter so much more to the fans here. They have spent 28 years watching their team slug it out, being bounced from different rinks.

“There will be a lot of tears on that first opening night. They’ve waited so long for the new arena and it is so cool to be part of what’s happening.”

Ah yes. Opening night. The first home game for Cardiff Devils will be played at the new arena in January 2016, which is likely to be one of the opening events.

Naturally enough, there will be pressure to furnish that new arena with titles. Lots of them.

Todd plans to satisfy that thirst for success, but not at a price: “We’re not going to break the bank just to win for one year. It would be different if there was £50,000 prize money on offer, but there isn’t.

“At the moment, we aren’t spending anywhere near as much as the big teams in the Elite League. It is a model that is working well for us.

“We’ve got a competitive team and the guys have bought into what the Devils are doing. When I ask the guys about next season, they are all begging to come back and be part of what we’re doing.”

Well, who wouldn’t be? With six fully-equipped changing rooms, not to mention those twin ice pads, plus physio facilities and a gym, Ice Arena Wales will be a standard bearer.

“We’re a fifth place team and I want us to be a first place team,” Todd says.

“This isn’t a transition year. It is like any other. The biggest difference with the new rink is the Olympic-sized ice pad.

“We have guys on the team who may not be the quickest, but they are hard hitters, because of the size of the pad we have at the moment.

“Maybe we will need to be quicker next season, on the bigger ice pad. These are all things we have to consider.”

So, back to the building itself. At a cost of £17m, it has been funded privately by building firm Greenbank, who will run it with the benefit of Chris’s experience. The last two years have been quite a whirlwind.

He says: “Over that time, I have been involved in everything inside the arena. That has included trips to Canada to check on fixtures and fittings.

“The external shape is the vision of the architect, but I think it looks great. The majority of the interior design is down to me.”

Clearly, there has been a hefty amount of co-operation from Cardiff City Council, as they once again look to establish a major ice venue in the area.

Ever mindful of the political ramifications, the council were instrumental in clearing the way for the development.

Chris believes Cardiff is unique in that love for sport: “When the Devils first started in the late 1980s, there was all this talk of ‘cheque book hockey’ but we had people queuing around the block for tickets.

“Because of that, it has inspired people to start skating. Ice hockey is part of that.

“We get Cardiff City fans here, as well as the rugby fans. We play later in the day, which is ideal for them. The council have been very supportive of us.”

Todd, who has been nodding throughout that last sentence, agrees: “The cool thing about Ice Arena Wales is that it wasn’t our idea. It was the fans who put this together over the years.

“They pestered the council and did the work behind the scenes. It is like the current rink is someone’s legacy, and the new arena will be as well.

“It shows the standing of the Devils in the local community. A new club couldn’t do what our fans did.

“We’ve got a very special relationship with the city council and part of that is our tradition.

“People in Cardiff are passionate about sport in this city. They don’t just read about it in the paper, they go out and support their teams.

“That passion is clearly there with the Devils fans.”

Talking about passion, let’s leave it to Chris to deliver the final word.

Well, I say final word, but perhaps that should be an opening statement…

Of a new era for the Devils: “There will be a few fans in tears on that first night in the arena. And I’ll be one of them.

“This is just massive for the club. We want to hit 3,000 fans – that’s something we haven’t seen since the days of the Wales National Ice Rink.”

The good times, it seems, are literally around the corner – or across the car park.

For more details on the development – and to see the latest photos – go to: www.icearenawales.co.uk.

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